31 December 2008

gParis, gWhat?

My Paris stories are lengthy, mostly because all my stories are lengthy...so I'm going to put them into several posts, according to topic...and although you might not think that my topics seem to relate, they actually do somewhat, so read on...

On my way to Paris, the train passed an apartment building where I saw the most random something hanging over the edge of a third-floor balcony - a rather large, colorful garden gnome, trussed up like a return to Texas and the Old West, or even Mississippi in the '50s. Someone had clearly taken matters into their own hands with the poor little guy. I wonder which was the last straw for his owners - the fact that he had grown too large to properly fulfill his gnomish duties (however those might be defined), or the idea that Santa might not visit a place with other gnomes in residence. (Someone clearly made compare between their statures and now this poor gnome is dead, dead as a doornail. *That line is for Mel...she should laugh quite hard...I just managed to skew bits of Dickens and Shakespeare, all in one fell swoop.*) I'm thinking, however, that lynching someone of the same species as Santa might not have been the most clever way to extend a welcome. The only other possible scenerio here is that the children of the household didn't recieve what they wished for this year and promptly exacted bits of revenge. But if that is the case, then these are clearly bad children anyway, and Santa made the right choice...and if those kids think that was a good way to get on Santa's list for next year...hmm... Still, a gnome had to suffer, and for that reason alone, I grieve.

Paris has a lot of gypsies. I know...some of them consistently told me I was beautiful, and others of them robbed me at the metro on what should have been my last day in the city. Contemptible little buggers, they are. Still, I have to admit that the ones in the shop next to my hostel cooked a mean breakfast...

Getting a new passport after I had my old one stolen was a long process. I didn't even know anything was missing until I got off the metro at the Gare de Lyon and went searching in my bag for my train ticket back to Geneva. After the tears subsided (of which there weren't many because I'm not a girl who cries much unless it's really the end of my known world, and then the tears just won't stop), I made my way to the police office in the train station to file a report. I then spoke to the duty officer at the American Embassy and found out how to go about once again becoming an identifiable US citizen. The American Aid Society was wonderful - they paid for my hostel that night and also gave me twenty euro for food. As long as you're patient, the passport process in Europe is actually easier than the passport process in America. It took me almost six hours the next day to obtain my new passport, but other than taking an extra day from my life, it was a completely survivable experience. (Although it would have been a lot less survivable had I not had a novel in my bag - Black Order by James Rollins. But when do I not have a novel in my bag?)

The only thing that was at all difficult was trying to talk my way into the Embassy gate house after hours the night my passport was stolen. Of course none of the military men there spoke a single word of English, so I was left finding out how good my French actually was by trying to explain that I was robbed and that the duty officer had told me to go straight to the Embassy. These were words I hadn't learned in French class. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Je dois aller à l'Ambassade. (I must go to the Embassy.)

Police: Désolé, l'Ambassade est fermée. (Sorry. The Embassy is closed.)

Me: Je sais, mais je suis américaine. Et regardez...(I know, but I am American. And look...)

I hand him my police report, because I have no idea how to say words like "stolen" or "robbed"...and he could read the bloody thing...I couldn't even do that. There is a brief pause while he reads.

Police: Oui, oui, mais l'Ambassade est fermée. Vous revenez demain, d'accord? (Yes, yes, but the Embassy is closed. You come back tomorrow, alright?)

Clearly this man is not very sympathetic.

Me: Non, J'ai appelé l'Ambassade déjà from the Gare de Lyon, and the duty officer says....oops...Désolé, parlez-vous anglais? (No, I have called the Embassy already - here I lapse into English - ....sorry, do you speak English?)

Police: Non.

Me: Ah, mon francais n'est pas bon. (Ah, my French is not good.)

Police: Mais oui! Je vous compends! (But yes! I understand you!)

Me: D'accord, merci. J'ai appelé l'Ambassade déjà et l'homme dit venir ici ce soir. (Alright, thank you. I have called the Embassy already and the man says to come here tonight.)

At this point I'm getting really frustrated and my verb tenses begin to go bad.

Police: Un moment. (One moment.)

The police officer goes to get a superior. I repeat my request to the new officer - I must go to the Embassy. The man in the gate house is waiting for me.

New Police: Désolé, Mlle, l'Ambassade est fermée ce soir. (I'm sorry, Miss, the Embassy is closed tonight.)


And again, I'm so frustrated that my French is beginning not to make sense. But hey, I understand ESL speakers when they screw up sentences. And apparently these guys understood me too.

This was when two other officers decided they needed to come on over. Now there were four of them and one of me. They all read my police report and I ended up repeating myself about four more times before they decided to ask the guy in the gate house...the guy who was actually waiting for me...if I was legit. And I was, so they let me in. The whole process took about twenty minutes. But at least now I know that I can explain myself well enough to get into an Embassy after hours if I need to. But I hope my passport never gets stolen in Spain.

None the worse for wear (unlike that gnome),
That girl in Switzerland

26 December 2008

A Few Christmas Thoughts (this is a good one...)

First of all, a shout out to my first follower, practically published! I now feel as though I might be of some importance to someone...*Heather stops just short of begging people to read her blog.*

I also feel it important enough to mention that I'm headed to Paris in the morning. Anyone who cares to do so is welcome to pray for me this weekend while I navigate a huge city all on my own...to all those asking, yes, I'm going by myself, and yes, it will be serious amounts of fun. Will write a lengthy update upon my return to Geneva.

Next noteworthy thing...on the subject of Christmas music...I need to say a few things (because this is what blogging is all about). Who originally decided that Christmas needed dreary music to go along with the festive stuff?? I can imagine some guy in a bar one night, just dumped by his favorite girl, writing a sad song about being all alone on Christmas. He was probably drunk along with being sad. And he probably got over her and moved on, and his next Christmas was perfectly jolly. Also, he was probably very happy with the money he made by dumping his depressing lyrics onto the music-crazed masses. But why CD producers decided they needed to surprise their consumers by randomly inserting these melancholy songs into their otherwise perfectly festive lineup is completely beyond me. Those sad people who actually want to listen to these songs probably don't want to hear the joyful ones, and those of us that only wish to hear the joyful ones are stuck jumping out of our skin every time a bad (yes, bad) song starts playing. Today I managed to bruise my knee quite badly with the underside of a table as I jumped up to skip "2000 Miles" (by KT Tunstall), which was hidden between "Mistletoe and Holly" and "Winter Wonderland" on the latest Starbucks Christmas album. What's next? A broken toe? Bruised shins? All of these stupid, sad Christmas songs should be placed in one compilation for all the stupid, sad people to buy at Christmastime so they can have a good soundtrack to accompany the tears they no doubt shed into their whiskey. All of the fun, jingly Christmas songs should be sold as just what they are - fun, jingly Christmas songs - and not as mere sandwiches for songs written by people who should consider intensive therapy. These thoughts have led me to produce the following carefully-pondered list:

1. Most Lovely Christmas Hymn of All Time: Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
2. Most Fun Christmas Song: Ding Dong Merrily On High
3. Worst Christmas Song Ever Written in the History of Mankind: 2000 Miles (KT Tunstall)
4. Most Loved Christmas Song for Children: toss-up between Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman
5. Best Version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?": Pink Martini
6. Song that Makes Me the Most Wistful This Year: I'll Be Home for Christmas
7. Christmas Song with the Most Attitude: Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)
8. Easiest Christmas Song to Play on the Piano: Joy to the World
9. My Sister's Most Hated Christmas Song: Little Drummer Boy
10 Song I Most Like to Play When My Sister is Around: Little Drummer Boy
11. Freakiest Christmas Song: The Man with All the Toys (The Beach Boys)
12. Longest, Most Annoying Christmas Song: 12 Days of Christmas
13. Christmas Song I Liked Best as a Child: Snoopy Christmas (Snoopy vs. the Red Baron)
14. Artist that Plays the Most on My Ipod at Christmastime: toss-up between the Carpenters and Robert Shaw (Handel's Messiah)
15. Artist Most Appropriate for Any Mood At Christmastime: Ella Fitzgerald
16. Song that Most Fits My Mood this Christmas: River, by Joni Mitchell (because the truth of the matter is that I understand, from a thoroughly painful point of view, the people who wrote those sad songs and every emotion they were trying to express...I just hate being reminded of it.)

Dad and I played games online for two hours tonight. We have a Christmas tradition of playing Scrabble and drinking eggnog. (Following up my previous post - no, I did not drink eggnog this Christmas; yes, I survived that tragedy.) But we two un-geeky folk couldn't figure out how to play Scrabble online, so we contented ourselves with Checkers, Battleship, and Dominoes. It was the highlight of my Christmas Day! I also got to talk extensively to everyone else in my family, as well as my best friend, Dee, so not being at home for Christmas wasn't a complete loss. And I really did have a fabulous time with my host family today (we had a good laugh at Jules, who had a good cry at us laughing at him...confusing, but that's how it happened). I am so blessed this Christmas to have so many people who genuinely care about me.

Lastly...this morning when I woke up, I read the second chapter of Luke aloud, as is my family's pre-gift Christmas tradition. I never fail to be utterly amazed at what God did for us when He gave us Jesus. "For unto you is born this day...a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord...Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!" Merry Christmas, dear readers, and may the peace of God reside in all of your hearts this Christmastime!

With Love,
That girl in Switzerland

25 December 2008

Fabulous Christmas Eve

:-) Had a fab Christmas Eve, except for the fact that I'm not home. Talked to all the family except Kim. That was the tragic part of the day. :-( The fab part of the day was the time I spent with the boys this morning and with my whole host family this evening. The dinner was fabulous, the dessert was fabulous (yeah, I ate two pieces of chocolate cake), the gifts were fabulous, the boys waiting to open the gifts were fabulous (and also hilarious in their attention to the time ticking away)...the whole evening was great! It really felt like I was right at home the whole evening.

Daddy and I are going to play our Scrabble game online tomorrow. I hope it isn't confusing. We have a tendency to get competitive sometimes, and that's difficult enough in person...but of course I'll win...I always win...hahah...(except, to be fair, that losing streak of two games back in '06).

Felix, Jules and I made up a rhyme today while we were eating yogurt. It goes like this:

I like yogurt
Yogurt is yummy
When I eat yogurt
It goes in my tummy.

I like yogurt
Yogurt is runny
And I like rhyming
'Cause it's really funny.

LOL...not so bad for a four year old and a six year old, eh? They giggled the entire time we were making it up. (yeah, the rhyming is pretty obvious, but hey, everyone has to learn sometime, right?)

Also went to the midnight service at St. Peter's Cathedral. That was pretty cool. The choir sang beautifully. I saw someone there that I absolutely never expected to see - my friend, Leanne, from Israel. I asked her, "What on earth is a Jewish girl doing at St. Peter's Cathedral on Christmas Eve???" She laughed at me and said that her rabbi told her she wasn't allowed to come, but she did anyway just because she was curious. She also said she felt a little guilty for not obeying her rabbi. I told her, "Don't worry. It's totally ok that you came." :-P I did tell her Happy Hannakuh, though, and she was quite impressed that I knew that today was the fourth day of that particular holiday. But what can I say?? I know my stuff.

Merry Christmas to my many readers (ha),
That girl in Switzerland

22 December 2008

Tea, etc.

J'aime beaucoup le petit café en face de la gare. The tea there is two francs cheaper than across the street at Starbucks. I treated myself tonight after finishing my long-overdue Christmas shopping. Black tea and a green chocolate tart. Yummy.

The woman next to me on the bus tonight had one of those shiny knuckle-ring things on every one of her sausage fingers. And also a bushy gray substance sprouting out of her head that closely resembled the Alpaca wool one might use to make a fuzzy wall hanging (only longer and without the little pictures of llamas). She kept glancing sideways at me like she just knew I was thinking about her...I wasn't really...I was just trying to find the right words to describe her...

In other news, I seem to have gotten Jules' virus. This is not unexpected as his favorite place to cough is into my face, and his favorite place to wipe his snotty hands is my shirt. I don't recall collecting this much mucus on my clothing even when I myself was a sick child. But what to do?? Shall I cancel my weekend in Paris? And how will I properly enjoy my day trip to Versailles if I have a 40 degree fever?? (No clue what that is in Fahrenheit, but at 42 in Celsius, you die.)

The Salvation Army has to work harder here (it seems) than in America. They had a whole brass ensemble in front of the toy store on the Rue de la Croix d'Or tonight but nobody was giving much. I literally watched hundreds of people walk by and look the other way. (Ignoring one guy with an accordion, ok, but an entire brass band??) Come on, Genève, where is your Christmas spirit?? Ok, a few people did donate. That was heartwarming. And the music was lovely. I listened until they left. I'm glad I didn't miss my chance to give to the Salvation Army this Christmas!

But returning momentarily to the subjects of tea and bad hair...last time I was at this particular café a freaky woman with frizzy, gray hair grabbed my arm and asked me in panicked tones if I had heard the strange voice in the air. I assured her that though I had not, the next time I was in I would listen more closely. I heard nothing tonight louder than the Britney Spears song on the radio. But maybe that's why they play the music so loudly. Who knows?

Signing off with a smile,
That girl in Switzerland
So the boys have this trick they like to play where they say someone's name, and then after that person responds they triumphantly announce, "Nothing!" Today I had this conversation with Jules:

"Yes, Jules?"
"Nuffing!!" (Jules looks very pleased with himself.)

(short pause)

"What, Heather?"

(a slightly longer, slightly confused pause. Jules didn't realize that Heather knew this joke.)


(Jules is seriously confused. How did this joke get so turned around??)

"HEATHER?! You are NOT GOOD, Heather!"

(much laughter from Heather)

"Heather, why you laughing?"
"Because you're so funny, Jules! You make me laugh my head off!"
(Jules looks around frantically.)
"WHERE IS your head??"

Hahahahahahah...we au pairs take our small pleasures where we find them. Kids are awesome!

21 December 2008

Intro to Me

So I'm not really much of a blogger, but I have extra time on my hands...why not give it a try?? Besides, everyone asks me questions about my life here in Switzerland, and it's rather droll repeating myself so much, so here are some glimpses into myself, my life in Europe, and the family I live with and work for. :-) Enjoy!

I am saddened by the possibility that I might not be having eggnog this Christmas. I haven't looked in a great many stores for it, but my host mom, Charlotte, says that people in Switzerland don't really drink it. What they do drink a lot is hot, spiced wine (vin chaud)...apparently Arnaud, my host dad, is a huge fan, so there might be some of that around the day of. But I'll be missing my eggnog and scrabble games with Daddy.

Jules is sick this week. Poor kid just turned four years old and was so excited...but now he has a virus that has him begging to go to the doctor. I've been breaking the number one au pair rule and letting him watch lots of TV...otherwise he'll be crawling all over me all day and I'll get the virus too...although I'm not altogether sure I haven't already. But I feel so sorry for him...he's a classic sick boy begging to be babied.

In other news, we got two golden labs a couple weeks ago. Their names are Jenny and Teacake (a boy...but apparently "cake" is masculine in French, so it works. Felix explained it to me like this: "Teacake! You know like you drink tea and eat cake??? Just put them together!! Tea...Cake...get it?? Teacake!??) and they are just as adorable as they can be. They're brother and sister - a little over seven months old, and they speak both French and English...lol...at least according to Felix...but I'm not so sure...they don't really respond to my English so I have to yell at them in French and hope I get the pronunciations correct. It's great fun!

My kids are great! Felix is six and he knows everything. He spent a bit of his time today teaching me how to make a cappacino...lol...and it was really good! (Only thing was...he's already taught me this skill a number of times.) The detail he puts into his tutorials is amazing! He might grow up to write how-to-do it books...but right now he's stuck on wanting to be the guy who picks up the trash (cool trucks, etc). He's a really focused little boy - today we spent over two hours playing with a set of magnets. Every time I said, "Felix, are you sure you don't want to play an actual game?" he would say, "No, of course not. This is fun!" He's a super fabulous, super polite child and I love him so much already!

Jules, on the other hand, is about as hyper a kid as you can imagine. He has this habit...if someone accidentally (or on purpose) bumps him or hits him, Jules will scratch that person on the face. It hurts like crazy!!! Jules likes to refer to himself as Indiana Jules because he's an Indiana Jones fanatic. Sometimes I'll listen for him during the day, just to know where he is, and often I can hear him humming away the Indiana Jones theme song...hmm hm hum hmmmm, hmm hum hmmmm...Jules is amazing. The other day he said he wanted to tell me a secret, and when I bent down to let him whisper in my ear, he said in his broken English, "Heather, you're good. I love you."

My boys make my day everyday.

Will post more soon. Am off to help Charlotte cook supper.